The poetics of homemaking: a love letter to my COVID household

On quiet domesticity.

Image credit: Robin Powell.

I live at home, with my mum and my younger sister. As NSW was plunged into lockdown, our house became the world. The need to stay inside necessarily changed the way we all live together. Our house was no longer just the place where we slept, ate, and watched TV – from July onwards, it was the place where we did everything. We were forced to forge new routines that could happen inside the four walls of our house, and our house was forced to change to accommodate them.

While the Olympics were on, my mum and I dragged an old, rusty ping-pong table out into the backyard so that we could play. We had been inspired by a match we’d watched between Switzerland and Puerto Rico. When it’s sunny, we stand out in the garden with the back doors open and play ping-pong together. We never keep score because my mum always wins. As it turns out, growing up with three siblings has made her surprisingly athletic, extremely competitive, and very good at ping-pong. 

With no one to have over for dinner, our dining table has become the place where we work on our shared colouring-in project. It is a giant, cartoon map of New York, the last place we travelled to as a family before the pandemic hit. My sister and I spent most of August arguing about what colour the buildings should be. She wanted them to colour them pink and blue, but I’m a purist – I think even cartoon buildings should be only colours that they could feasibly be in real life.

Our kitchen is very colourful. It is where we all congregate during the day in between our respective Zoom meetings, and where I sit when our cousins teach us to play 500 on facetime, even though we all have to spread out to different corners of the house so as not to let the audio echo. Our kitchen is also colourful in a more literal sense – every kitchen appliance that we own is, for some reason, bright red. I guess we probably started with one, and then it spiralled. The bowl where we all keep our keys is orange. The indoor plants that my mum brought home just before lockdown have now grown all the way up the walls, and, in the evenings, she stands on a stool to water them with a little ceramic watering can.

As a child, my mum moved around a lot. Her family would stay in each home just long enough to settle down, and then they would leave. She has always said that she wants us to love our house — to feel that it is a representation of who we are as a family. Since my parents stopped living together, the process of refining and redefining our living space has become something that she takes a lot of pride in. In a sense, I think she sees it as a challenge. Our house is a labour of love, and I love living in it. 

I think the concept of a COVID household has also presented us with a new kind of familial intimacy. A weird mantra of ours has become, “if one of us has it, we all have it.” In a time of paranoia and vigilance about who we interact with, there is a bizarre comfort in knowing that these are the only people I get to see up close and mask-less. In lockdown, we have been willing to risk transmission only between each other. It is almost as if our immune systems have become shared.

Lockdown has been immensely difficult in a lot of ways, and I am aware that it takes an enormous amount of privilege to indulge in the enjoyment of my own living conditions.  Nevertheless, I think that the practice of homemaking can be an incredibly joyful and sacred pursuit. I hope there is a way for the rituals of domestic life to be celebrated. At the very least, they have recently become important to me. Before lockdown, I would come home to tell my family about my life — now, I want to tell the other people in my life about coming home to my family. The home has long been a symbol of constraint, and domestic labour continues to be undervalued by most economic and political metrics. If homemaking has historically been an unthanked and unrecognised endeavour, perhaps the first step in transforming it into something else is to say thank you.

Marguerite Duras wrote that “the house a woman creates is a Utopia. She can’t help it — can’t help trying to interest her nearest and dearest not in happiness itself but in the search for it.” I think I will always think about the way that we have lived together in lockdown with fondness. My sister and I are getting older, and one day we will move out of home. I don’t think we will ever live quite like that again.

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